Monday. 21/9/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

RBG and democracy

Of all my assignments as a reporter over the years, there was something special about covering the US Supreme Court. Part of it was recognising the immense weight and impact of its decisions. Another part was the tremendous challenge, as a lowly reporter, of deciphering complex legal debates – made even tougher by the fact that the court’s nine lifetime-appointed justices didn’t particularly worry about crafting pithy sound bites. They served independently of politics and cared (most of them, at least) only about the right outcome under the law.

This fealty to the law over politics has slowly but surely been eroded over the last 20 years in the US. The tipping point could be the passing on Friday of one of the country’s most impressive legal minds ever, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (pictured). Yes, Ginsburg had an ideological agenda, most notably seeking equal rights for women, but she worked patiently within the law over decades, rather than politicking or abusing the law, to achieve her goals. It helps explain her well-documented friendship with the late Antonin Scalia, one of the Supreme Court’s most conservative justices and her ideological opposite; both had an appreciation of the law’s limitations.

Supreme Court justices have always been to some extent political; they’re appointed by presidents and confirmed by the US Senate. But it’s their devotion to the law that has led to surprises: justices such as Sandra Day O’Connor and David Souter famously shifted from conservative orthodoxy despite being appointed by Republican presidents. But this is changing: justices today are nominated expressly for their ideology, their appointments meant to further a political agenda. It explains why Senate Republicans blocked Barack Obama’s 2016 nominee (a replacement for Scalia, no less) in an election year but are now likely to allow Donald Trump a nominee just before November’s election. Whether technically legal or not, this blatant placing of political considerations above the spirit of the law means only one thing: democracy is in danger.

Diplomacy / Saudi Arabia

Matter of fact

Saudi Arabia’s nuclear pursuits could be an issue at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) annual conference in Vienna (pictured), starting today. The UN’s nuclear regulator revealed ahead of the meeting that, along with Chinese inspectors, it has offered advice to the kingdom on exploiting uranium. With its first reactor nearing completion, Saudi Arabia has made no secret of its nuclear ambitions. But more worrying was the IAEA’s admission that its inspectors have extremely limited access to data and information. Mark Fitzpatrick, associate fellow of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, notes the IAEA has been pushing for greater access for 15 years. “That length of stonewalling does raise suspicions,” he says. Previous examples illustrate the point: the regulator aided the North Korean nuclear programme before being frozen out in 2003. Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman says that the kingdom’s activity is entirely peaceful – but he’s also vowed to create a bomb if Iran does so. The Saudi programme, like Iran’s, is one to monitor closely.

Elections / USA ELECTION WATCH

Honest answers

Will a 46th US president be inaugurated in January 2021? Or will president number 45 remain in office? Either way, for Monocle’s October issue we thought that it was a good time to ask 46 voices for their take on how to design a better America from the White House. We quizzed former CIA director Michael Hayden, Greenpeace chief Jennifer Morgan and many more, including ambassadors, urbanists, media personalities and entrepreneurs – there should be a voice in there that resonates with you.

Is there a common strand? The next president should dial down on the partisanship and restore trust in the political process, said many of our respondents. “We have lost the ability to be empathetic,” Anthony Kennedy, alderman for the 10th district of Kenosha, Wisconsin, said. “We have to understand how people are living and experiencing things in our community.” That’s just one of the 46 wise voices that could help to restore America’s promise.

Retail / Switzerland

Run the wiser

For decades the running-shoe industry has worked the same way: a brand sells you a pair of trainers with bold claims about innovative foam and gel heels that you wear until they're battered and it’s time to purchase new ones. But with the industry aspiring to shift towards sustainability, Switzerland’s running brand On has unveiled a new shoe – one that you can never actually own. Called the Cyclon, it works on a monthly subscription model: made in part from castor beans, the shoes are meant to be returned after use and replaced with an updated pair. The old sneakers are then ground into pellets to make new shoes. “Making a fully recyclable, performance running shoe is a huge accomplishment,” says the firm’s co-founder Olivier Bernhard. While Monocle has yet to test the performance, it’s an interesting circular model – and one that could help both the planet and the consumer to win in the long run.

Design / Hong Kong

Crafty ideas

Disruption often breeds creativity: locked in their homes, more than 70 designers from Hong Kong and beyond have crafted a series of innovative objects to respond to the challenges arising from the pandemic. The results are on display at Hong Kong’s Soho House from today until 4 October. From antibacterial door handles (pictured) to an interactive helmet made to tune out the din, the prototypes explore how the world has changed and aim to offer solutions to societal and environmental problems. “Making things with our hands has become more relevant than ever and echoes a basic human desire to be creative and open,” says Marisa Yiu, co-founder and executive director of the Design Trust, which sponsored the exhibition. “Through making we can build a dialogue and immerse ourselves in our craft, all while provoking and probing for more,” she tells The Monocle Minute. It’s an inspiring expression of innovation, creativity and optimism during these tough times.

M24 / The Foreign Desk

What is QAnon and why does it matter?

QAnon is not the first conspiracy theory to have run wild in American politics but it is the first to have been indulged and encouraged by the sitting president. Many millions of US voters believe some or all of it, despite a complete lack of evidence. Could it be a factor in this election? Andrew Mueller talks to Will Sommer, Tia Mitchell and former believer Jitarth Jadeja.

Monocle Films / Japan

Japanese food trucks

These design-forward restaurants on wheels are more than just lunch-hour catering for Tokyo’s hardworking crowds. We visit the talented chefs, as well as a technology start-up kicking the “kitchen car” scene into gear.

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